LONGMEADOW – Residents approved 23 out of the 24 articles on the May 12 Annual Town Meeting warrant with the failed article being a bylaw change that called to delete a phrase in the water and sewer bylaw.
Article 23 was defeated by a majority vote and sought to delete the phrase “and shall charge for water by measure,” to read as “The Department of Public [DPW] works shall install and maintain in proper working condition a water meter on each service. The DPW shall require a separate connection for each estate.”
Selectman Mark Gold, in response to residents questioning whether the article would increase water and sewer rates drastically, said “there’s nothing that will change on your sewer rate based on this article.” There has been no discussion by the Select Board to increase water and sewer rates.
“Everybody in town; commercial, residential, big users or small users pays the same rate right now,” Gold said.
The Select Board can currently implement a water and sewer rate “that may or may not have town input,” he added.
“This warrant article proposes a change in the bylaws that will allow discussion to begin with respect to adjusting our water use billing basis,” Gold said. “It’s neither proposing nor applying any changes and certainly not the imposition of any system that would impose inequity on water rates.”
He explained the motivation for the bylaw proposal was the change in the “landscape” of the town’s water and sewer system during the past five years.
“These changes are the growing investment in renewing the water system infrastructure,” Gold added. “In the past five years we’ve invested in over $5.2 million in water system infrastructure. This trend is likely to continue rather than abate, as our decades-old system requires upgrading.
“It’s also necessary to note that over 60 [percent] and growing costs of delivering water to residents are costs that are not dependent on volume,” he continued. “We pay for most of the capital improvements by borrowing money and the payments on those bonds don’t change based on water use volume.”
A second trend that Gold believed supported the bylaw change was that there have been an increase of homes that are not using water for long periods of time, such as when residents leave the area during the winter for warmer climates.
Gold said if every Longmeadow resident turned off their water for three months it would only reduce water-related expenses for the town by 36 percent.
In other business, a solitary vote was the difference for Article 13, which called for using $50,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to preserve town payroll and personnel records via microfilming, after which paper files would be destroyed. A hand count vote of 61 to 60 allowed the article to pass.
Article 3 called for the town to fix the fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget at $60.4 million. It passed by a unanimous affirmative vote.
Stephanie Jasmin, a resident of 123 Englewood Road, originally made a motion on the Town Meeting floor to amend the budget to increase the school budget by $407,459 in order to support the implementation of free full-day kindergarten in FY16. The method of payment that was proposed in this motion was to utilize free cash. This motion failed.
“During the School Committee on Jan. 26, a decision was made to continue to charge tuition for full-day kindergarten, reducing it slightly next year from $3,000 to $2,750,” she added.
Jasmin said “we can’t wait another year” for free full-day kindergarten because it is greatly needed for the town.
“The myth by few but vocal town residents last year that full-day kindergarten is daycare is absolute fiction,” she added. “The rest of the town and the state do not believe that. Our teachers do not believe that, nor does any research state anything remotely closely to it.”
School Committee Chair Janet Robinson said the School Committee and the Select Board worked closely together to formulate the FY16 budget at level service and utilizing free cash for an annual expenditure would not secure the it for future years.
“We do not recommend using free cash as that is a one-time funding for recurring expenses and as Ms. Jasmin did state that ‘It would be up to the School Committee to find that money annually in our budget,’ which would then mean us looking at cuts or changing within a budget if that money was not sustained year to year,” she added.
Town Manager Stephen Crane said the school budget is $32.1 million and represents a 2.92 percent increase from the current fiscal year.
The FY16 budget was balanced without using reserves and with revenues matching expenditures, he added.
Articles 15, 19, and 20 called to utilize CPA funds for restoration and preservation projects at Storrs Library and the historic Storrs House. All of these articles passed by majority votes.
Article 15 called for $13,345 to be used to restore the Storrs House basement.
Article 19 called for $139,000 to be used for replacing the Storrs Library steps and its handicapped access ramp.
Article 20, which called for the town to authorize $23,000 in CPA monies for a replacement sidewalk originally had a motion to be tabled that failed to pass by a 2/3 required vote.
The last article on the warrant, Article 24, was a citizen petition that called to utilize a remaining sum of $25,000 that was previously appropriated at the 2014 Annual Town Meeting for further cost analysis of two proposed sites for the Adult Center. This article was approved by a majority vote.